The Situationist

Archive for March, 2008

The company “had no control or influence over the research” . . . .

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2008

image by by SuperFantasticAnyone following the tobacco industry revelations of the early 1990s knows about the industry’s diabolical strategies for influencing science. More specifically, as Stanton Glantz has written, the industry “encouraged scientific research to refute the scientific evidence about tobacco, to perpetuate controversy about the health effects of tobacco, and to provide results that could be used to respond to adverse publicity.” What fewer people realize is that at least some cigarette manufacturers may still be engaged in some of their old practices — influencing the situation of research. That is the possibility raised in Gardner Harris’s article last week in the New York Times, “Cigarette Company Paid for Lung Cancer Study,” excerpted below.

* * *

In October 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College jolted the cancer world with a study saying that 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans.

Small print at the end of the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, noted that it had been financed in part by a little-known charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment. A review of tax records by The New York Times shows that the foundation was underwritten almost entirely by $3.6 million in grants from the parent company of the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands.

The foundation got four grants from the Vector Group, Liggett’s parent, from 2000 to 2003.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, editor in chief of the medical journal, said he was surprised. “In the seven years that I’ve been here, we have never knowingly published anything supported by” a cigarette maker, Dr. Drazen said.

An increasing number of universities do not accept grants from cigarette makers, and a growing awareness of the influence that companies can have over research outcomes, even when donations are at arm’s length, has led nearly all medical journals and associations to demand that researchers accurately disclose financing sources.

Dr. Henschke was the foundation president, and her longtime collaborator, Dr. David Yankelevitz, was its secretary-treasurer. Dr. Antonio Gotto, dean of Weill Cornell, and Arthur J. Mahon, vice chairman of the college board of overseers, were directors.

Vector issued a press release on Dec. 4, 2000, saying that it intended to give $2.4 million to Weill Cornell to finance Dr. Henschke’s research. Articles in Business Week and USA Today mentioned the gift. No mention was made of the foundation, begun so hastily that its 2000 tax return stated “not yet organized.”

Paul Caminiti, a Vector spokesman, confirmed that the company donated $3.6 million to the foundation over three years. The company “had no control or influence over the research,” he said.

Prominent cancer researchers and journal editors, told of the foundation by The Times, said they were stunned to learn of Dr. Henschke’s association with Liggett. Cigarette makers are so reviled among cancer advocates and researchers that any association with the industry can taint researchers and bar their work from being published.

“If you’re using blood money, you need to tell people you’re using blood money,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The society gave Dr. Henschke more than $100,000 in grants from 2004 to 2007, money it would not have provided had it known of Liggett’s grants, Dr. Brawley said.

In an e-mail message, Drs. Henschke and Yankelevitz wrote, “It seems clear that you are trying to suggest that Cornell was trying to conceal this gift, which is entirely false.”

“The gift was announced publicly, the advocacy and public health community knew about it, it is quite easy to look it up on the Internet, its board has independent Cornell faculty on it, and it was fully disclosed to grant funding organizations,” they wrote, adding that the Vector grant represented a small part of the study’s overall cost. The foundation no longer accepts grants from tobacco companies, they wrote.

In the Vector press release, Dr. Henschke was quoted as saying that, thanks to the Vector grants, “we have raised the initial funding needed to support this important research and data collection on the effectiveness of spiral CT screening.”

Dr. Gotto said in an interview that Dr. Henschke, Dr. Yankelevitz and another colleague set up the foundation initially without the university’s approval, which he said faculty members are allowed to do. He and Mr. Mahon joined the board some weeks or months after its creation to ensure that the Vector grants were handled correctly, he said.

“If we had been approached, we would not have set up the foundation,” Dr. Gotto said. “We would have accepted the gift directly. We think we behaved honorably. There was no attempt to set up a foundation to hide tobacco money.”

Days earlier, Andrew Ben Ami, assistant secretary of the foundation, said in an interview he would not disclose the source of the charity’s financing at the request of the university.

In another interview before Dr. Gotto agreed to speak, Mr. Mahon, another foundation director, said he did not know the source of the funds.

Dr. Robert C. Young, chancellor of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chairman of the Board of Scientific Advisors of the National Cancer Institute, said he had never heard of the Vector grants. “As someone who really hung around the inner sanctum of cancer research, I have never heard anybody — anybody — everImage by by Bhima Bramantika say anything about this,” Dr. Young said.

Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and the author of a book about conflicts of interest, said he believed that Weill Cornell had created the foundation to hide its receipt of money from a cigarette company. “You have to ask yourself the question, ‘Why did the tobacco company want to support her research?’ ” Dr. Kassirer said. “They want to show that lung cancer is not so bad as everybody thinks because screening can save people; and that’s outrageous.”

* * *“She’s the biggest advocate for widespread spiral CT screening,” said Dr. Paul Bunn, a lung cancer expert and executive director of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. “And now her research is tainted.”

Corporate financing can have subtle effects on research and lead to unconscious bias. Studies have shown that sponsored research tends to reach conclusions that favor the sponsor, which is why disclosure is encouraged. The tobacco industry has a long history of underwriting research — sometimes through independent-sounding foundations — to make cigarettes seem less dangerous.

* * *

Universities are responsible for policing conflicts of interest and, in many cases, the required disclosures of their faculty. But Weill Cornell shared in the proceeds of Dr. Henschke’s patent and pending patents, and university officials were on the foundation board.

“We have a very strict oversight policy” for conflicts of interest, Dr. Gotto of Weill Cornell said. He dismissed any suggestion that the university could not police and benefit from faculty members’ financial deals.

But Dr. Kassirer said, “The problem is that universities, because they’re so conflicted themselves, ignore the conflicts of interest of their faculty.”

Legislation being considered in Congress would require drug and device makers to post registries of payments to doctors.

An increasing number of doctors and institutions are setting up foundations to accept money from companies without having to disclose its source, said Dr. Murray Kopelow, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

“This is the third time in the past few weeks that one of these has been identified to us,” said Dr. Kopelow, whose organization is investigating how widespread the practice is.

* * *

To read the entire article, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Industry-Funded Research – Part II,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Preferences – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2008

image-by-juicystyle-flickr.jpgDan Simon, Daniel C. Krawczyk, Airom Bleicher, and Keith J. Holyoak have posted their new paper, “The Transience of Constructed Preferences,” (forthcoming in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making) on SSRN. The abstract is below.

* * *

A large body of research suggests that preferences are constructed rather than merely accessed in the course of making decisions. The current research examines the stability of constructed preferences over time. Preferences for various factors relevant to a job choice were measured prior to presentation of the job choice task, at the point of decision, and again following a delay. It was found that relative to baseline pre-decision levels, preferences shifted to provide stronger support for the emerging decision. Preference changes proved to be transient, receding to baseline after one week (Ex. 1), and even within fifteen minutes (Ex. 2). These findings, which can be interpreted in terms of decision making by constraint satisfaction, suggest that preferences are constructed to serve the decision at hand, without constraining the decision maker in future decisions.

* * *

For related scholarship, see Situaitonist contributor Paul Slovic’s Book, The Construction of Preference.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Imagination and Choice – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 28, 2008

// Dailey, Professor of Law at University of Connecticut, has posted a fascinating new paper on SSRN: “Imagination and Choice.” We’ve posted the abstract below.

* * *

Contemporary behavioral legal scholarship on individual decisionmaking draws primarily from cognitive psychology. This Article argues that the field of behavioral legal scholarship should be broadened to include modern psychoanalytic ideas about the processes of individual decisionmaking. As explained here, the basic perspective of psychoanalytic psychology is largely compatible with recent cognitive research on decisionmaking. However, a psychoanalytic perspective adds valuable nuance and complexity by exposing for scholarly examination certain essential attributes of individual decisionmaking that have so far been overlooked. As a first step in bringing modern psychoanalytic ideas to the attention of contemporary behavioral legal scholars, this Article examines imagination, a psychological attribute central to individual decisionmaking and a fundamental feature of psychoanalytic psychology. Contemporary legal scholarship recognizes the relatively narrow idea of a cognitive imagination by looking at processes such as representation, memory, and counter-factual thinking, as well as cognitive distortions and biases in processing information such as the availability heuristic. In contrast, imagination as understood from a psychoanalytic perspective is the creative capacity to express one’s personal wishes, needs, and desires in words and images. Imagination is central to decisionmaking because, however trivial or important the context, individual choice always depends fundamentally on consideration of desired future courses of action and their consequences. For this reason, studying the origins and mechanisms of imagination – its relationship to reality testing, its sources in early childhood, and its unconscious operations – is essential if law is to develop a comprehensive understanding of individual choice. An example of the value of psychoanalytic psychology to contemporary legal scholarship is provided by examining the law governing the enforceability of prenuptial agreements. As this discussion illustrates, a psychoanalytic perspective, in conjunction with research from the cognitive sciences, provides a richer understanding of the assumptions about individual choice upon which many laws and legal policies are based.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Bullying

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2008

From New York Times (by Dan Barry – March 24, 2008): “A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly.”

* * *

// lank and bone, the boy stands at the corner with his younger sister, waiting for the yellow bus that takes them to their respective schools. He is Billy Wolfe, high school sophomore, struggling.

Moments earlier he left the sanctuary that is his home, passing those framed photographs of himself as a carefree child, back when he was 5. And now he is at the bus stop, wearing a baseball cap, vulnerable at 15.

A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he’s going to beat up Billy Wolfe. While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.

The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.

The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again. It’s not yet 8 in the morning.

Bullying is everywhere, including here in Fayetteville, a city of 60,000 with one of the country’s better school systems. A decade ago a Fayetteville student was mercilessly harassed and beaten for being gay. After a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights, the district adopted procedures to promote tolerance and respect — none of which seems to have been of much comfort to Billy Wolfe.

It remains unclear why Billy became a target at age 12; schoolyard anthropology can be so nuanced. Maybe because he was so tall, or wore glasses then, or has a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension. Or maybe some kids were just bored. Or angry.

Whatever the reason, addressing the bullying of Billy has become a second job for his parents: Curt, a senior data analyst, and Penney, the owner of an office-supply company. They have binders of school records and police reports, along with photos documenting the bruises and black eyes. They are well known to school officials, perhaps even too well known, but they make no apologies for being vigilant. They also reject any suggestion that they should move out of the district because of this.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully’s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. “That was Benny, sweetie,” she says. “That was in the eighth grade.”

It began years ago when a boy called the house and asked Billy if he wanted to buy a certain sex toy, heh-heh. Billy told his mother, who informed the boy’s mother. The next day the boy showed Billy a list with the names of 20 boys who wanted to beat Billy up.

Ms. Wolfe says she and her husband knew it was coming. She says they tried to warn school officials — and then bam: the prank caller beat up Billy in the bathroom of McNair Middle School.

Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus’s security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.

Things got worse. At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother. Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness.

Ms. Wolfe remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy’s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved. Most of all, she remembers the sight of her son.

“He kept spitting blood out,” she says, the memory strong enough still to break her voice.

By now Billy feared school. Sometimes he was doubled over with stress, asking his parents why. But it kept on coming.

In ninth grade, a couple of the same boys started a page called “Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe.” It featured a photograph of Billy’s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: “There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.”

. . .

According to Alan Wilbourn, a spokesman for the school district, the principal notified the parents of the students involved after Ms. Wolfe complained, and the parents — whom he described as “horrified” — took steps to have the page taken down.

Not long afterward, a student in Spanish class punched Billy so hard that when he came to, his braces were caught on the inside of his cheek.

. . .

Judging by school records, at least one official seems to think Billy contributes to the trouble that swirls around him. For example, Billy and the boy who punched him at the bus stop had exchanged words and shoves a few days earlier.

But Ms. Wolfe scoffs at the notion that her son causes or deserves the beatings he receives. She wonders why Billy is the only one getting beaten up, and why school officials are so reluctant to punish bullies and report assaults to the police.
. . .

* * *

To read the entire story, listen to an audio recording of Billy describing the first time he was bullied, watch a video of a bus-stop attack, or see a slide show of images related to the story, click here. For some related Situationist posts, see “Dueling Stereotypes and the Law,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III,” and “The Devil You Know . . . .”

Posted in Law, Life | 6 Comments »

Miscalculating Welfare – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2008

Michael Dorff and Kimberly Ferzan have posted a new paper, “Miscalculating Welfare,” on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

* * *

In their quest to maximize efficiency, law and economics scholars often produce novel, creative, and counterintuitive legal rules. Indeed, legal economists have argued for baby selling, against anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, and for insider trading.

In this essay, we discuss some concerns about this form of legal scholarship that privileges the creative and counterintuitive over the fair, mundane, and intuitive. Drawing on a rangecapuchin-monkeys-de-waal.jpg of empirical evidence, this essay argues that the failure to include, and to give sufficient weight to, fairness preferences undermines legal economists’ policy recommendations.

Specifically, after setting forth three examples of this phenomenon, in the second part of our essay, we turn to the empirical evidence that legal economists should take fairness concerns seriously. This evidence ranges from the recent happiness research that calls into question the correlation between wealth and happiness, to studies of the capuchin monkey who rejects unequal pay, to cross-cultural results of the ultimatum game. We argue that given the growing body of research revealing that individuals value fairness over their own rational self-interests, it is incumbent on legal economists to take preferences for fairness into account.

From here, we discuss several perils of ignoring fairness. We illustrate that unfair rules may upset reasonable expectations or instigate resistance. Either of these effects would undermine whether the specific legal rule was itself wealth or welfare maximizing. We then turn to two ways in which an unfair legal rule might adversely impact the legal system as a whole. Drawing on the work of [Situationist contributor] Tom Tyler and others, we argue that unfair rules may create general disrespect for the legal system thus undermining the force of law. We also argue that unfair legal rules may undermine more general social norms, thus upending the rule-utilitarian benefits of rules over standards.

Finally, we speculate a bit about the perverse incentives of current legal scholarship. The three proposals at the beginning were published by a University press, a peer-review journal, and a top student-edited journal. Innovative and creative solutions to legal problems may get widespread publicity and may be highly valued over and above realistic solutions to legal problems. In the final section, we sketch out what we believe are the pitfalls and the benefits of our rewarding this sort of scholarship.

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Legal Theory, Morality | Leave a Comment »

False Convictions in the Situation – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 26, 2008

James Curtis Giles Exoneration - from MSNBCSamuel Gross has a forthcoming article, “Convicting the Innocent” that examines the stereotypes of exonerations and how those stereotypes eclipse “the categories of false convictions that almost never come to light.” The abstract is below.

* * *

We’ve learned a lot about false convictions in the past 30 years. For example, we now know that more than 2% of death sentences in America are based on false convictions, that innocent African American men are more likely to be falsely convicted of rape than innocent white men, especially if the victim is white, and that innocent teenagers accused of murder are more likely to falsely confess than innocent adults. We also know that prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective legal defense are common in the cases of innocent defendants who are convicted of rape and murder, as are eyewitness misidentifications, false confessions, fraud or error by forensic analysts, and perjury by jailhouse informants.

But there is much more that we do not know. Almost everything that we have learned about false convictions is based on exonerations in rape and murder cases, which together account for only 2% of felony convictions. The exonerated defendants we know about were almost all convicted at trial rather than by guilty plea (unlike the vast majority of convicted defendants, even in rape and murder cases), and sentenced of death, life imprisonment, or decades behind bars. Our image of a false conviction is derived from these exonerations: a heinous crime of violence for which an innocent defendant is convicted at trial, after a difficult and troubled investigation, and sentenced to death or life in prison. There is every reason to believe that the vast majority of false convictions bear little resemblance to this picture.

This article explores some of the categories of false convictions that almost never come to light: innocent defendants who are convicted of crimes that did not occur (as opposed to crimes committed by other people), who are sentenced in juvenile court, who plead guilty, who receive comparatively light sentences – in fact, almost all innocent defendants who are convicted of any crime other than rape or murder. Judging from what we can piece together, most false convictions are not dramatic errors caused by recklessness or serious misconduct, but commonplace events: inconspicuous mistakes in ordinary criminal investigations that never get anything close to the level of attention that sometimes leads to exonerations.

* * *

To read a related Situationist post, see “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).”

Posted in Abstracts, Law | Leave a Comment »

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2008

There is a video interview of Tony Greewald and Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji on Edge. We’re posting parts of the transcript in severalMahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald bite-sized installments. Part I is here; Part II is here; and Part III is here.

GREENWALD: We have of course written quite a few papers reporting our research with the IAT, but those papers now represent only a small fraction of the total research literature on the IAT. This is because the technique has captured the interest of many of our colleagues. The question many are asking is, “Do these associations that the IAT measures have any impact on behavior?” This has been the number one question in the research almost since the IAT’s creation, and now, after ten years, there are over a hundred publications that have reported relations of IAT measures to behavior.

As many as a third of these publications have focused on the race test. What they have found—and this is not something we could have confidently predicted beforehand—is that the implicit race attitudes measured by the IAT predict behavior better than do the standard methods of measuring racial attitudes—the self-report methods of survey questionnaires.

In one type of experiment that has been done a few times, researchers video-recorded the behavior of a White person, who had previously taken the IAT, talking to a Black person in an ordinary conversation. The videotapes were then scored for indicators of discomfort, such as speech errors, maintaining distance, and turning away. The remarkable finding is that these indicators of discomfort are better predicted by the race IAT than by the same person’s self-reported race attitudes. And now, with more than one hundred studies looking at “predictive validity”—the relation of what the test measures to behavior—we know that the test usefully predicts behavior.

BANAJI: Our paramount interest is the science. If it has positive social value, that is great, but in our daily lives what we spend our time on is to find ways to understand the nature of this phenomenon we’ve discovered – that our minds do things that we don’t intend to, can’t always control, may even be embarrassed about and deny. The questions we ask as scientists are very ordinary. First of all, what is being measured? Statistically speaking, how large are the effects of the biases we are observing? Should we take them seriously? (If they are tiny, we need not bother with them; but if they are large, perhaps we should pay heed.) Who and how many people are implicated? Is this a universal phenomenon? What does it predict? Does one’s own group membership matter? Can a bias be changed?

The question of prediction has been an important one. One could argue this way: Let’s see, I am sitting in front of a computer and pressing two little keys. You are measuring something in milliseconds and telling me that I should take this seriously as a measure of how good a person I am? Of who I like and dislike? How I will behave as a doctor, a judge, a police officer?

To answer the question of what the test predicts, we needed studies that included the gold standard measure. The real thing. For example, if you have money or other resources, whom will you give it to? Whom will you cooperate with? Who will you hire to be on your team? If you are a doctor, to whom will you prescribe a particular medical procedure? Do you prescribe it equally? These are the real behaviors to which the test needs to speak What if if the test is simply picking up some random set of mental associations that have no value in the real world?

That piece of research on predictive validity has been done largely by people other than ourselves. There is now a robust body of work showing that in certain domains, this test outpredicts the usual questions about human behavior that are directly posed to respondents on a survey-type measure.

GREENWALD: We have tried to make the IAT method easily available to other researchers. The instructions and the stimuli are under copyright, but we have made it clear to any researcher who asks that they are entirely free to use the test in their scholarly research. For uses in commercial applications, like diversity training, market research, polling, etc. where people want to use the test to generate income, we license uses of the test.

BANAJI: I think we have taken the position that this test is useful for two purposes: as a scientific tool, and for education, at the individual level and at the level of communities discussing its meaning and its use. We have taken the quite firm position that this test is not to be used in the selection context, and we say so very explicitly at our website and whenever we have the opportunity. We do not believe that this is the kind of test you give somebody and then say, for example, “Ah-ha! We see that you have a larger-than-average race bias, so you cannot serve on a jury.”

Is it possible, that our warning notwithstanding, that the test will be misused in this way? Yes, as it is with anything. An AIDS vaccine could be misused in some way, but we would not suggest that we not develop one for that reason. There is always potential, when you discover something new, for it to be misused. But this is why when the scientists who know most about it take the position that it cannot be used in certain contexts, we are building in a strong protection.

GREENWALD: One of the considerations prompting us to say that, ordinarily, the test should not be used for selection—such as of jurors or employees—is that we know we would not qualify for many responsible positions if a selection criterion were absence of implicit bias on an IAT measure. But we do not think we should be disqualified from such positions just because we have these associations in our heads. At the same time, we do think that it’s useful for us to be aware of the associations measured by the IAT and to recognize that they can influence our behavior in ways we may not be happy with.

To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click hereTo review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2008

obama-mccain.jpgGregory Scott Parks and Jeffrey J. Rachlinski have posted a new paper, “Unconscious Bias in the 2008 Presidential Election,” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The 2008 presidential campaign and election will be historic. It marks the first time a Black person (Barack Obama) and a woman (Hillary Clinton) have a real chance at winning the Presidency. Their viability as candidates symbolizes significant progress in overcoming racial and gender stereotypes in America. But closer analysis of the campaigns reveals that race and gender have placed enormous constraints on how these two Senators can run their candidacy. This is not surprising in light of the history of race and gender in voting and politics in America. But what is perhaps more surprising is how the campaigns have had to struggle not only with overt sexism and racism, but with unconscious, or implicit, biases in their campaigns. Recent research from social psychologists indicates that unconscious race and gender biases are widespread and influence judgment. Because existing anti-discrimination law is designed to combat overt, or explicit, biases, it does not address unconscious biases well. If even Senators Clinton and Obama, with an array of consultants and advisors behind them, find unconscious racism and sexism to be a stumbling block in what is nothing more than the most elaborate, grandest job interview of them all, then what must it be to the average Black person or woman seeking a job or promotion?

* * *

Gregory Parks published a two-part series on Huffington Post in February about this research (link to Part I or Part II). We have excerpted sections of those posts below.

* * *

* * *
In areas dominated by whites, black electoral success is rare. Not all researchers have found an interactive effect of voter and candidate race. Those who have not, however, have indicated one major methodological shortcoming of their, respective, studies — the possibility that study respondents were not honest about their opposition to black candidates. As such, a better predictor of the role that race plays in voter decision-making would be their implicit attitudes about race. With that in mind, let me make a few points:

An implicit construct is “the introspectively unidentified (or inaccurately identified) trace of past experience that mediates [the category of responses that are assumed to be influenced by that construct].” Implicit cognition reveals mental associations that people do not want to or are unable to report. This is because such cognitions might conflict with expressly-held values or beliefs, or such cognitions may be politically incorrect. Moreover, implicit cognitions reveal information that is not readily available to introspection for people with a desire to retrieve and/or express such information. Therefore, the key feature of implicit measures of attitudes is that subjects are often unaware that their attitudes are being measured and are thus unable to exert conscious control over their responses. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a popular measure of the relative strength of associations between pairs of concepts, including positive/negative attributes and race.

A large percentage of whites harbor anti-black/pro-white biases — some 70-90%. That means that they demonstrate an implicit preference for white over black, manifest as faster responding for the white/pleasant combination than for the black/pleasant combination. These results are quite robust as seen in individual experiments with dozens of subjects as well as in web-based studies of hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Implicit racial bias is not a mere abstraction. It is linked to the deepest recesses of the mind — particularly the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of the brain that is involved in emotional learning, perceiving novel or threatening stimuli, and fear conditioning. Neuroscience research indicates that whites’ amygdalas are activated far more when they are subliminally shown black faces as compared to white faces. Moreover, the degree of amygdala activation is significantly correlated with participants’ IAT scores. Implicit racial bias is also implicated in numerous forms of seemingly benign as well as consequential behavior.

One important study that should be mentioned demonstrated how “racialized” names trigger racial schemas. Researchers responded to more than 1300 help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago with fictitious resumes. The resumes were crafted to be comparably qualified with the only difference being that half of the resumes were randomly assigned stereotypically black names (e.g., Lakisha Washington). The other half were assigned “white” names (e.g., Emily Walsh). The white resumes received 50% more callbacks. Jerry Kang (UCLA law professor [and Situationist contributor]) rearticulated these results in terms of racial schemas such that employers use the names of applicants to categorize applicants into racial categories. Once the names are racially mapped, some set of negative racial meanings are automatically activated. In turn, these stereotypes and prejudices result in fewer callbacks for blacks.

Implicit racial attitudes not only predict behavior, generally; they also predict voting behavior. I think most folks can understand that political conservativism is positively correlated with automatic associations between black/bad and white/good. However, among Democrats, those who hold the least favorable implicit attitudes towards racial minorities are nearly four times less likely to prefer a racial minority candidate over a perceived white candidate. This is compared to Democrats who hold the most positive implicit views towards a racial minority candidate.

clinton-mccain.pngA voter’s implicit biases do not have to dictate how they will vote in the 2008 election or any other election. Individuals who harbor implicit biases, and who wish to be unfettered of those biases, may de-bias themselves and cast their vote based on where candidates stand on issues and not their race or gender. Current models of prejudice and stereotype reduction contend that the reduction of such attitudes require that individuals must: 1) be aware of their bias; 2) be motivated to change their responses because of personal values, feelings of guilt, compunction, or self-insight; and 3) possess cognitive resources needed to develop and practice correction. Of note, whites who are more internally motivated to reduce their levels of race bias show less implicit prejudice, whereas those who are more externally motivated display more implicit prejudice. Furthermore, repeated exposure to an admired black person (e.g., Denzel Washington) and a disliked white person (e.g., Jeffrey Dahmer) decreased the magnitude of automatic preference for whites over blacks. And this reduced race preference effect was not fleeting; it endured for at least 24 hours.

* * *

. . . . [I]n light of this research, generally, how do I make sense of the caucuses and primaries? Political science research and accounts of the Bradley, Dinkins, and Wilder elections give some hint as to what took place in Iowa in and New Hampshire. I sense that in Iowa, given that caucuses are conducted such that others are aware of your vote, Whites were less apt to be guided by implicit bias and vote for the White candidates, because they had to be publicly accountable for their votes. In the New Hampshire primary, no public accountability took place and thus no checking of implicit attitudes at the door. Additionally, part of what might explain New Hampshire is the noted study on exposure to liked (Black) and disliked (White) persons. Obama and Clinton were near polar opposites on the likeability spectrum, which may have abated some Whites implicit racial attitudes vis-à-vis he and Clinton. However, her noting during the New Hampshire debate that she was hurt by not being “liked” by voters and then tearing-up at the café, she served to humanize herself. In doing so, she may have unwittingly washed out the effect of this Black (liked)/White (disliked) contrast and its diminishing effect on Whites’ implicit racial bias.

Lastly, what has likely gotten Obama this far among Whites is their efforts to check their implicit biases at the door when caucusing or voting during primaries. If South Carolina is any indication, however, he still has a long way to go. It seems that he may be able too broaden his appeal among White voters, but he is short on time. If Whites with egalitarian beliefs wanted to truly consider Obama’s candidacy free of implicit racial bias, many could, but Obama’s difficulty is that neither he nor his campaign can directly raise the issue of White “prejudice” dampening his votes among them. It would be nice if Whites knew their implicit racial biases (by taking the IAT) and then sought to square those biases with their professed, non-racist attitudes. In addition to various forms of external debiasing, I think this is the only way Obama truly has a shot at the presidency.

* * *

To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. Click here to take the “PRESIDENTIAL CANDITATES IAT.” To review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

For a sample of previous posts examining situational elements of voting or, specifically, the 2008 presidential election, see On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Project’s Second Conference – “Ideology, Psychology & Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2008


The following article by Pam Mueller was published this week in The Harvard Law Record (photographs by Brian Aune).

* * *

austin-north-conference-attendees-lq.jpgThe second annual Conference on Law and Mind Sciences, sponsored by Harvard’s Project on Law and Mind Sciences, led by Professor Jon Hanson, took place in Austin Hall last Saturday, March 8. The conference’s goal is to bring together social scientists and legal scholars to forge ties between the fields and to encourage discussion of research relevant to both disciplines. This year’s conference was entitled “Ideology, Psychology, & Law,” and addressed how ideologies can affect our decisions both as individuals and in the larger context of the legal system.

Approximately 100 attendees listened to presentations by leading social psychologists, including Mahzarin Banaji, Brian Nosek, Aaron Kay, Geoffrey Cohen, and Emily Pronin, Jim Sidanius, and also Yale Law professor Dan Kahan. After each set of presentations, Harvard Law professors Elizabeth Warren, Yochai Benkler, Jennifer Brown, and Joseph Singer engaged the panelists in discussion of how the research could best be applied to the law, whether within the court system or via policymaking.

Professor Banaji began the conference with a brief summary of what she and her team have found regarding the strong predictive power of identifying oneself as liberal or conservative. While she and many presenters tacitly equated ideology, especially conservative ideology, with harmful bias, Professor Nosek argued that ideology is essential to our perception of the world, and helps us to make sense of the millions of bits of information with which we are constantly bombarded.

The discussions led by law professors provided a new critical perspective for the social psychologists. While unanswered directly by the research, Elizabeth Warren kept up panel-takes-questions-lq.jpgher reputation as an intense questioner by consistently returning to the issue of why social and fiscal conservatism were correlated. Jennifer Brown used her background in dispute resolution and mediation to suggest that one of Geoffrey Cohen’s findings about affirmation of individuals and its effect on arguments could be used to reduce polarization of juries in hotly contested cases with ambiguous facts.

Professor Hanson provided the capstone speech at this year’s conference, speaking about the effect of external situational forces on the creation and promotion of certain ideologies. In addition to leading the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and its two conferences at Harvard Law School, Professor Hanson has worked to bridge the gap between empirical psychological research and legal scholarship in his own work and via his professional relationships with social psychologists.

Professor Hanson and many of the other presenters at both Law and Mind Sciences conferences are also regular contributors to the Project’s blog, “The Situationist” ( The Project hopes to make videos of the conference presentations and discussions available online, and will announce this via the Situationist Blog. Those interested in additional research and discussion about the relationship between social psychology and law can also visit the blog.

* * *

To read about last year’s conference, click here.

Posted in Events, Ideology, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | 2 Comments »

“Disabling Prejudice” – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 23, 2008

weber-cover.gifMichael Evan Waterstone and Michael Stein have posted Disabling Prejudice (forthcoming in Northwestern University Law Review) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This is a review of Mark C. Weber’s book DISABILITY HARASSMENT. Weber’s work provides powerful evidence of an important but often unacknowledged form of intentional discrimination against people with disabilities. It also provides a doctrinal formulation by which to address this issue, as well as normative arguments for why we should. Weber’s work draws insight from social science research suggesting that discomfort and anxiety relating to disability can lead non-disabled people to deliberately stigmatize people with disabilities. Yet a growing body of legal and social science research suggests that the discomfort generated by minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the workplace also leads to less acknowledged, even unconscious forms of discrimination. Like the blunt disability harassment Weber discusses, courts and legislatures have found that this less blatantly recognized variant of discrimination is difficult to confront and address.

We therefore address invidious unconscious discrimination in this Review Essay by making the case for why people with psycho-social (also called, mental) disabilities, who are largely considered to be among the most stigmatized individuals, should and can be integrated into the workplace. In doing so, our assertions go beyond legal protections to argue that occupationally integrating individuals with mental disabilities is also beneficial for their co-workers without disabilities.

Part I of this Review Essay sets forth Weber’s thesis, arguments, and conclusions regarding disability-based harassment. Part II briefly overviews the influence of deeply embedded unconscious discrimination, especially as it affects occupational participation by minority groups, including people with disabilities. Next, Part III provides an initial treatment of why people with mental disabilities normatively should and practically can be incorporated into the workforce. In doing so, we highlight some of the less currently appreciated benefits of integrating these workers. We conclude with a few thoughts on how incorporating individuals with psycho-social disabilities may be seen as part of the overall dynamic of increasing flexibility in the evolving workplace, including some advantages that redound to their non-disabled peers.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations | 2 Comments »

March Madness

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on March 21, 2008

George Mason and Georgia Fans 3

This post was first published in March of 2007.

* * *

Watching this year’s tournament, it is difficult not to notice the profoundly passionate (mad?) fan baseDuke Fans enjoyed by so many teams. We’re not just talking about the “Go! Go! Rah! Rah! Siss Boom Bah!” of conventional cheering sections. We’re talking about camping overnight (sometimes over two nights) on cold, wet sidewalks to queue up for pricey game tickets. We’re talking about full-on body painting — face, hair, the works — to exhibit team spirit. And, in some cases, we’re talking about taunts and jeers directed at the opposing team and their equally, um, “enthusiastic” supporters. Those familiar with the “Duke Sucks” refrain know what we are talking about. Of course, this is nothing new. And, for the fans of some teams, the devotion lasts all season.

Among “true fans” there seems to be a race to excess, as the images above of Duke, George Mason and Georgia fans indicate. These fans care. A lot. True, all those teams have been eliminated in this year’s tournament, including the Blue Devils who were knocked out in the first round. Regardless, no one can say that these fans didn’t do their part to will their teams to victory — blind faith, unlimited allegiance, and some fluorescent body paint, such is the stuff of deep fandom.

Maryland Fans RiotingFew things feed the fires of madness quite like success. Otherwise ordinary (intoxicated) college students turn into “mobs” following an important team victory. To the left we see a photo of Maryland fans rioting after their team . . . won the NCAA title. “Yay us! I know, let’s burn some furniture to celebrate.”

So what is going on? How can teams do this to us? Why would John Q. Freshman and Jane Q. Sophomore go to such extremes, spending so much time, energy, money, even dignity, to root for their school? After-all, most college fans could as easily have gone to another college, even a rival college; and the students at Them University are often indistinguishable from those at Us University, except for their college affiliation and bumper stickers.

Still, to most of us, bumper-sticker distinctions are enough to justify our love for our team and our loathing for theirs. After all, Us U. accepted us, while Them U. accepted them. “It’s Us against Them! Let’s torch the sofa!”

Bluto Blutarsky and The Heights Pictorial

There are many partial explanations for this strange behavior — which is rendered particularly puzzling in light of our more general self-conceptions as individuals living in an individualistic culture. Of course, we are not just individuals doing things our own way according to our own moral compass and preferences. Our own identities are largely wrapped in group associations that are no less random than, among countless other variables, where we are born or the the acceptance and rejection letters of college admissions committees. And once we have identified in-groups and out-groups, our attributions and understanding of the world is interpreted through those distorting lenses. Thus, as Situationist Contributor Susan Fiske has written with Shelley Taylor, the categories carry their own weight: “Simply categorizing people into groups minimizes within-group variability and maximizes between-group differences”:

Categorization’s effect of reducing perceived variability is even stronger when people are considering groups to which they do not belong. A group of outsiders (an outgroup) appears less variable than one’s own group (ingroup) . . . . Minimizing the variability of members within an outgroup means that they are not being recognized as distinct individuals as much as they would be if they were perceived as ingroup members.

Social psychologists have also discovered that these groups give rise to various motivated attributions of causation, responsibility, and blame — including the “ultimate attribution error”: In-group members tend to make internal (dispositional) attributions to positive in-group behavior and negative out-group behavior, as well as external (situational) attributions to negative in-group behavior and positive out-group behavior.

It may be tempting to conclude that such tendencies of individuals to coalesce into a highly regulated and constraining collective unit is limited to just drunken, hormonally hyper, college students. No doubt, that helps. But the madness of March runs much deeper than that. Need we say more than Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees? In case you answered “yes,” consider the following two quotations from two baseball fans, who, we suspect, have much in common. First, the Yankees fan:

Down at St. Marks Ale House in the East Village, a 25-year old fan said: “The worst would be losing to Boston fans because they’re such ignorant, bitter people. They’re so used to losing, all they have is hate. There’s no humility. That’s what we want to see. We want to see humility.”

Ok, now the Red Sox fan:

“We don’t hate the Yankees because they suck at baseball, I think it’s obvious they don’t, we hate them because they are all stuck up jerks who are all over-paid just because all their fans are bad losers and they need to pay guys millions of dollars so they can win. Besides that, they are all drunken freaks on crack (well, a lot of them are).”

Kid Saying Yankees Suck!

(As objective scholars, we think it important that we remain neutral by simply pointing out the obvious: the second quotation is credible while the first one is clearly the drunken rantings of Yankee crackpot.)

Speaking of drinking, although alcohol might exacerbate the team-oriented behaviors and prejudices, it occurs among the sober as well. Indeed, one of social psychology’s best-known, classic experiments involved this phenomenon among kids at camp. Eliot Smith and Diane Mackie, two experts on group behavior, summarize the experiment in their Social Psychology Text as follows:

On June 19 1954, two groups of 11-year-old boys tumbled out of buses to start summer camp in the Sans Bois mountains near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Robbers Cave State Park, name for the hideout of he notorious outlaw Jesse James, offered a 200-acre site with fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, and the usual camp games and sports. The new arrivals were ordinary White, middle-class boys with no record of school, psychological, or behavioral problems. They had nothing on their minds except high hopes for a fun-filled 3-week vacation.

The camp was more than it seemed, however. Unknown to the boys, their parents had agreed to let them participate in a field study of intergroup conflict set up by Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues — a study that came to be known as the Robbers Cave experiment . . . . The boys did not know that the camp counselors and directors were social psychologists and research assistants. Nor, at first, did members of each group know that another group was sharing the campsite.

During the first week, as they took part in separate activities designed to promote group cohesion, each group developed norms and leaders. They gave themselves names, the Eagles and the Rattlers, and each group designed a flag. Toward the end of the week, the groups discovered each other. Seeing “those guys” using “our ball field” and “our hiking trails” sparked demands for a competition. The staff was only too pleased to arrange a 4-day tournament including baseball, tug-of-war, a treasure hunt, and other events. The experiments even promised the winners a fancy trophy, shiny badges, and four-bladed pocketknives. Both groups practiced hard, cheered their teammates, and roundly booed and insulted the competition. Hostilities escalated as the tournament progressed, culminating in a flag-burning when the Eagles lost the tug-of-war.

Muzafer Sherif Rattlers Eagles 3

The Eagles ultimately won the tournament, collecting the trophy and the coveted pocketknives. But while they were taking a celebratory swim, the Rattlers raided their cabins and stole the prizes. The rivalry had turned into full-blown war, and the staff was kept buys silencing the name calling, breaking up fist fights, and cleaning up after cabin raids and food fights. The experiment had transformed 22 perfectly normal boys into to gangs of brawling troublemakers, full of hostility and intent on exacting revenge for every real or imagined slight.

In short, the subjects in the Robber’s Cave experiment behaved very much like the subjects in the natural experiments in, among other places, college athletics. Randomly assigned and “normal” people can, with only the tiniest situational manipulations, readily form strong in-group alliances and robust out-group aversions.

One might be tempted to conclude that extreme “groupism” or “teamism” is limited to the irrelevant — that fans allow themselves to get swept up in, say, the NCAA tournament or the Eagles and Rattlers engaged in food fights and cabin raids solely because it’s fun, and there’s no real harm in it.

According to that account, people care so much about their teams in part because, in the grand scheme, their team’s performance matters so little. With the premise, we wholeheartedly agree: It is hard to know why it matters who makes it to the Final Four. We say that, though, not as big-dance killjoys, but as hard-core fans who actually care a great deal — though for reasons that are beyond the grasp of our conscious minds. And so it is that we have serious doubts that about the argument that our concern with sports is simply all in fun. We think it more likely that the “all in good fun” rationalization is what we offer to make sense of the disproportionate role that sports play in our lives — something akin to an alcoholic announcing that he drinks because he enjoys drinking and not because he is addicted.

Regardless, there seem to be other situations in which our team-oriented tendencies do clearly matter — do pose meaningful risk of harm to others or ourselves. And in those moments, the dynamics seem strikingly familiar. The body paints and costumes of the bleachers have much in common with the body paints and uniforms of blood feuds and battlefields. Blind faith, unlimited allegiance, and some camouflaging body paint; that is the stuff of armed combat. Team affiliation — “us versus them” — is the stuff local violence and global wars. Teams identified by schools, clans, genders, races, regions, religions, languages, nations get swept up in the excesses of “us and them,”often in ways that can only be described as irrationally self-destructive. So it is, that, particularly in retrospect, we are befuddled by the spats, fights, battles, and wars that others have fought (or that we ourselves were embroiled in previously): “Why did it matter so much? What were they thinking? Were those people mad?”

Iraq Burning 4

Sports have long been understood as a powerful means of teaching and learning lessons about life — about winning and losing, hard work, competition, and teamwork. But sports have a lot to teach us about ourselves that we seem to want to ignore and might not want to admit. Sports reflect and exploit tendencies that have both good and bad effects. Why not dwell a little lesss on the former and focus a bit more on the latter?

March Madness for all its fun and irrelevance may be a symptom of a deeper tendency — a madness of sorts — that social psychologists have long seen at the heart of intergroup aggression and conflict. Parents, teachers, coaches, universities and the like should focus on that tendency and the questions it raises such as: How is it that largely random and often insignificant variations can determine who is “us” and who is “them”? Why do we so quickly, easily, unthinkingly fall into line behind the flag of the perceived “us,” so ready to attack those who we perceive as “them.” Why are we so stingy with our empathy and so generous with our self-righteousness toward out-group members?

Our aim in raising these issues is not to take the fun out of sports, which we love; rather, it is to suggest that we might better learn about ourselves from our sports so that we might take some of the fun out of needless agression, conflict, and war. Just as Sherif and his colleagues learned a great deal about human conflict in their Robber’s Cave study, there is much that might be learned from the experiments taking place every day on the playing fields, tracks, courts, and diamonds of sports.

Those questions and topics are the focus of some of our ongoing work, and we hope to return to them in subsequent posts.

Oh, and in the meantime . . .

Go Hoyas!

To read the comments from last year’s version of this post, click here and scroll down. To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “Deindividuation and Seung Hui Cho,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.” (Next week we plan to post a summary of research neuroscientific research suggesting how our brains tend to see outgroups members differently from ingroup members.)

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Politics, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Interpreting Facial Expressions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2008

Clinton McCain ObamaDel Jones of USA Today has an interesting piece on the research of Dan Hill, an expert in facial coding, a system of classifying hundreds of tiny muscle movements in the face. Below is a brief excerpt from the article as it pertains to the expressions of Senators Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

* * *

“It is presidential season and Hill, president of Sensory Logic and author of a book about facial coding called Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds, has been in demand to find clues in the faces of the candidates. John McCain forces smiles and, true to his reputation, angers easily, as demonstrated by puffed cheeks and a chin thrust upward in disgust, Hill says. Hillary Clinton smirks, an expression “she oddly enough shares with President Bush,” which conveys an attitude of assurance bordering on superiority and smugness. Barack Obama has the best true smile, but flashes it rarely for someone who speaks of hope, and Hill sees flashes of disdain, aloofness, disappointment and exasperation.”

To watch a video of Dan Hill’s analysis of the smiles of several candidates, click on the video below.

* * *

Undoubtedly, people’s facial expressions often speak louder than their words about their attitudes, emotions, and associations. And it is certainly the case that scientists are learning more every day about the sources and meaning of those facial expressions. Still, we have our doubts about the reliability Hill’s process of facial-coding, particularly given his seeming readiness to reach firm conclusions about a given individual’s stable preferences, emotional states, or attitudes through that process.

For other Situationist posts on politics, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2008

Mahzarin Banaji & Anthony GreenwaldThere is a great video interview of Tony Greewald and Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji on Edge. We’re posting parts of the transcript in several bite-sized installments. Part I is here; Part II is here.

* * *

GREENWALD: The race IAT was critical. It is the version of the IAT that got the widest attention, and it is the one we would most often demonstrate in lectures. That is another of the IAT’s virtues: you can give a group demonstration and show a room full of people all at the same time that they have this shared difficulty in giving the same response to Category A and to Category B, but if you the switch the sides of the two categories, it becomes very easy.

We, and also many of our colleagues, have been very motivated by the discovery that the IAT reveals these associations with race effect in our own heads. The effect does not show up in everyone, but in perhaps 70 to 75 percent of those who have tried the test. Some are upset by this observation. They are concerned that the test is, in effect, accusing them of being prejudiced. That reaction has led us to take pains to distinguish what this test measures from what is ordinarily meant by prejudice.

Prejudice is ordinarily understood as a state of mind that leads to intentional discriminatory behavior. People who have no intent to discriminate and no dislike of a racial group might think that their IAT result was characterizing them as prejudiced. We have repeatedly said, no, that it is not what the result means. In describing what the IAT measures, we have been careful to use phrases such as ‘implicit attitude,’ ‘implicit preference,’ and ‘automatic preference,’ while avoiding the unqualified word ‘prejudice’. Incidentally, if we did describe the test as measuring prejudice, then we would be accusing ourselves of being prejudiced.

BANAJI: One of the great insights this test has provided for me is the ability to look at what might be evolutionarily “old ways” in which we tend to behave when left to our own devices. Our social preferences must have some roots in our early social groups and interactions. From having evolved in a world where people on the other side of the river were either people you killed or people who would kill you. We now live in a world where we have to outsource to those same people on the other side of the river! We have to be friends enough with them to understand their culture so that we can get them to do things with us and to think about our common fate.

It is one thing to say, “The law says you should do this or that.” It is quite another thing to say, Well, if we are really smart, and if we are really the adaptive creatures that we are, we are going to look at the ways in which we behave and see that they are not necessarily to our advantage. And as we learn we will change. And we will change in all of the ways in which we are going to need to. Like the work we need to do and will do to solve our environmental problems. Or our health problems. Eating too much is a problem because our bodies evolved in a world where food was far less abundant that it has come to be (for many people in the world). We cope by thinking about calorie intake and output in new ways. I think one of the tests of human intelligence will be whether we can take insights that are inconvenient truths about our minds, turn them around, and use such knowledge to create a better society – by which I mean, one that is line with our consciously chosen aspirations, rather than one we are being driven toward out of ignorance of who we are and our past.

GREENWALD: The IAT provides a useful window into some otherwise difficult-to-detect contents of our minds. In some cases, we find things we did not know were there. It may be “an inconvenient truth” that what’s there is not what we thought was there or want to be there. But I think it is generally something we can come to grips with.

BANAJI: We have to believe that everyone is to blame, or rather everybody is responsible. It is not just the media. It is not just your parents. Instead, we find to be attractive those metaphors that come from air borne pollutants. What our minds acquire comes from the stuff that is hanging around in the atmosphere. It is in the water. It is in the air. When that is the case, you cannot hold individual people responsible. You can hold larger units and larger groups of people responsible in the same way that we do in order to solve the problem of environmental damage.

To come back to the test, I think an intuitive way to understand what it does is to imagine working with a deck of playing cards. If I ask you to sort the cards into two piles—red cards on one side; black cards on the other—you should be able to do so relatively easily. Let’s say I measure the time it takes you to put the red cards to the right and the black cards to the left and use a stopwatch to time you. Then I say, “All right, I am going to time you again. This time put the hearts and clubs to one side, and the spades and diamonds to the other”, and I start the stopwatch again. . We would all understand intuitively that the second sorting should take longer than the first. And the difference in time is indicative of the cognitive ease of the first relative to the second.

Like that, the IAT is trying to capture the difference between two sortings. When we encounter two things that have not been paired together very much in our experience, it takes a little longer to put them together because they are strangers to each other, making the task difficult. Working from this assumption, the IAT requests pairings of say Obama and good and Hillary and good and looks at the relative speed of judgment and the error rates. What is nifty is that you can replace Obama and Hillary with anything you want. If you are interested in looking at your preference for Coca-Cola versus Pepsi-Cola, you can adapt the test to do that.

* * *

For a eight-minute review of IAT research by Scientific American (including clips of both Mahzarin Banaji and Brian Nosek, who each explain how the biases can operate outside of, or contrary to, one’s intentions), watch the video below.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Space & Place (Situation) of Rural Women

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2008


Lisa Pruitt, Professor of Law at University of California, Davis (and blogger on Legal Ruralism Blog) has posted a fine new paper on SSRN: “Of Spaces and Spheres: What Critical Geography Can Teach Law about Rural Women.” The abstract is as follows:

Like other legal scholars, feminists often think about social change over time, using history as a lens to reveal disadvantage and injustice. They have demonstrated, for example, that the public/private divide and related separate spheres ideology are socially contingent developments based on evolving perceptions of women and gender roles. Shifts in such perceptions have thus informed legal changes, and vice versa.

This Article argues that a more grounded and more nuanced understanding of women’s lived realities requires legal scholars to engage not only history, but also geography. Because spatial aspects of women’s lives implicate inequality and moral agency, they have direct relevance to an array of legal issues. I thus deploy the tools of critical geographers – space, place, and scale – to inform law and policy-making about an overlooked population for whom spatiality can be a profoundly influential force: rural women.

* * *

Here is an excerpt (footnotes omitted) in which Professor Pruitt briefly describes and illustrates what she means by the concepts of space, place, and scale.

* * *

In this Article, I argue that a better understanding of women’s lived realities, including their encounters with the law, requires legal scholars to engage not only history, but also geography. Because spatial aspects of women’s lives implicate inequality and moral agency, they are directly relevant to an array of legal issues. Like feminists in other disciplines, I deploy the tools of critical geographers – space, place, and scale, but I do so with a view toward informing law and policy-making about a frequently overlooked population: rural women.

While historical analysis relies on the vector of time, geographic analysis uses the complementary vector of space. “Space” is an abstract concept that refers both to the familiar idea of physical surroundings (physical space) and to the impact that particular spatial configurations have on many aspects of life, from social relationships to economic opportunity (social space). Attending to rurality seems an obvious aspect of the “space” part of critical geography given the literal, physical isolation of rural residents and rural communities from one another, as well as the influence of this reality on how rural spaces and places are socially constructed. “Place” is a more concrete subset of space. Analysis based on place considers particular locales, taking into account the range of characteristics that distinguish one place from another. “Scale” is a unit of measure of space and place, e.g., the household, the region, the globe.

These spatial concepts are illustrated by a brief example based largely upon an empirical study of gender in rural Appalachia in which changes at a global scale are shown to have material consequences at regional and local scales, even at the micro-sites of household and body. Global economic forces cause a mine closure, leaving many local miners unemployed.

Viewing available service jobs as beneath them, the male miners move into private or quasi-public spaces, away from the formal market. They resort to the informal economy (e.g., car repair, cutting and hauling firewood) to help make ends meet. At the same time, many of the miners’ wives move from the domestic and private spaces of the home into the public spaces of the market by taking paid work to supplement family coffers.

Their newfound status as earners confers some power on the women. This alters the division of reproductive labor in the private space of the household, while also endowing women with greater power in the various public spaces of the wider community. Shifts thus occur at multiple scales. Changes may reverberate across even higher scales as women take on leadership roles in local and regional political movements. At the same time, agitation about shifting gender roles and the stress of economic hardship can lead to intimate abuse, which implicates lower scales, such as the body.

Law and legal actors also have roles in these socio-spatial phenomena playing out in real places. These roles include, for example, global trade agreements that lead to rural economic restructuring and federal and state laws that govern employment law. At the other end of the causal chain, they include local law enforcement responses to intimate abuse and other “lower” scale consequences.

As this scenario illustrates, critical geography can bring “the rural” into scholarly view and presents expansive opportunities for legal scholarship. Unlike rural sociology and rural economics, which seem to thrive as disciplines, legal scholars and critical geographers ignore the rural/urban axis. I am thus challenging the often implicit scholarly association of both critical geography and law with that which is urban.

* * *

To access the entire paper, which includes a primer on critical geography, click here

Posted in Abstracts, Geography | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Harvard Law Students

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 18, 2008

Dean Elena KaganThe Dean of Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan, today announced a first-of-its-kind program intended to relieve some of the situational squeeze that may have kept some students from taking public-interest jobs out of law school. Below we’ve pasted portions of Harvard Law School’s website summary and Jonathan Glater’s article in today’s New York Times about the new program.

* * *

In a move that will further strengthen its commitment to public service, Harvard Law School is announcing that it will pay the third year of tuition for all future students who commit to work in public service for five years following graduation. Dean Elena Kagan ’86 announced the new program following a three-day “Celebration of Public Interest,” which brought more than 600 alumni back to the HLS campus.

The new initiative will operate in addition to the Law School’s current loan repayment program, which is—and will continue to be—the most generous in the nation.

“I want all of our students to have the ability to make public service their first choice after law school,” said Kagan. “We have tried in many ways to make this choice easier, particularly for students who have accumulated significant debt in college and law school. This initiative, which effectively provides a $40,000-plus grant to all our public service-oriented students, is the next big step toward giving our students greater career choices. There is no better time to announce it than now—following our first-ever Celebration of Public Interest.”

* * *

To read the rest of HLS website summary, click here. Here are portions of the Times article.

* * *

Concerned by the low numbers of law students choosing careers in public service, Harvard Law School plans to waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to spend five years working either for nonprofit organizations or the government.

The program, to be announced Tuesday, would save students more than $40,000 in tuition and follows by scant months the announcement of a sharp increase in financial aid to Harvard’s undergraduates. The law school, which already has a loan forgiveness program for students choosing public service, said it knew of no other law school offering such a tuition incentive.

“We know that debt is a big issue,” said Elena Kagan, dean of the law school. “We have tried to address that over the years with a very generous loan forgiveness program, but we started to think that we could do better.”

For years, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers in traditionally low-paying areas of the law have argued that financial pressures were pushing graduates toward corporate law and away from the kind of careers that they would pursue in the absence of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

“The debt loads that people are coming out of law schools with are now in six figures,” said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. “When the debt load is that great, I have had a lot of applicants who’ve said, ‘I’d like to take the job, but I really can’t afford it.’ ”

Perhaps worse, Mr. Marquis said, some indebted young lawyers who choose to try to survive on a low salary as a junior prosecutor may decide to leave to earn more just as they gain enough experience to handle more important cases. For that reason, he added, Harvard’s program sounded like a “great idea.”

Harvard’s third-year-free program is expected to cost the law school an average of $3 million annually over the next five years, Ms. Kagan said, but that number is just an estimate because it is unclear how many students will take advantage of the offer. The law school’s share of the university’s endowment of $34.9 billion is more than $1.7 billion.

From 2003 to 2006, as many as 67 and as few as 54 of the 550 students graduating from Harvard Law went to work for a nonprofit organization or the government. That translates to 9.8 to 12.1 percent of the graduating class. A vast majority of students have chosen to join law firms, where they can earn well over $100,000 a year immediately after getting their degree.

“This is an interesting move,” Larry Kramer, dean of the law school at Stanford, said of the Harvard initiative. Compared with other loan repayment assistance programs, Mr. Kramer said, “It’s unclear whether it is more generous.”

It may be, he said, that loan forgiveness over a longer period of time may encourage more students to go into public service and stay there. He added that it would take time to see how students reacted to the program.

Brandon Weiss, 26, a third-year student at Harvard Law who plans to join a public-interest law firm after he graduates, said he thought the tuition waiver program might sway students concerned about their debt to consider more career possibilities.

harvard-law-students.jpg“Some students come in and know that public interest is what they want to do,” said Mr. Weiss, who will not benefit from the program himself because it does not begin until next fall. “There are probably other students that know they want to go to a big law firm. This program will help those students who are in between.”

Michelle J. Anderson, dean of the law school of the City University of New York, said the waiver of tuition sounded like an ambitious experiment.

“Harvard Law School is an extremely expensive, elite law school,” Ms. Anderson said, adding that tuition at CUNY Law was less than $9,000 a year. For Harvard, she added, reducing the price “is a different way of trying to attract students” interested in public-interest jobs.

* * *

Lawmakers have also begun paying more attention to the ways in which student debt deters graduates from going into public-interest careers. Legislation passed in the fall by Congress provides student loan forgiveness for public servants, like public defenders, librarians, teachers, firefighters and nurses, after 10 years of service.

* * *

To access the entire article, click here. To read some related posts on the situation of Harvard Law Students, read “Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Posted in Law | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Soldiers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 18, 2008

Photo by Yuri Kozyrev for Time Magazine - 2005NPR’s All Things Considered has a 3-minute audio report on an event (sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War) in which veterans told of their experiences in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One 19-year-old soldier is quoted in the report, explaining, much as Phil Zimbardo or Stanley Milgram might, the mechanisms of obedience:

“I watched a prisoner, and we denied him water and food, and to my understanding he did not have sleep for three days. . . . [Y]ou don’t really think about it because it’s being allowed. You know, cause you’re just thinking this is what I’m doing. This man came down from the airfield command center there. Taking it as another directive order from our coalition forces, I just did what I was told.”

To listen to the entire report, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, go to “Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” and “Looking for the Evil Actor.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Conflict | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of our Food – Part IV

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 17, 2008

Michael Pollan has made a career studying and writing about the situation of food. We in include his wonderful TED lecture, “The Omnivore’s Next Dilemma,” from last month below. “What if human consciousness isn’t the end-all and be-all of Darwinism? What if we are all just pawns in corn’s clever strategy game, the ultimate prize of which is world domination? Author Michael Pollan asks us to see things from a plant’s-eye view — to consider the possibility that nature isn’t opposed to culture, that biochemistry rivals intellect as a survival tool. By merely shifting our perspective, he argues, we can heal the Earth. Who’s the more sophisticated species now?”

Pollan’s latest book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” came out in January. We’ve posted his website’s summary below.

* * *

Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food - Book Cover

Food. There’s plenty of it around, and we all love to eat it. So why should anyone need to defend it?

Because most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it — in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone — is not really eating. Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible foodlike substances” — no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion. The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.

But if real food — the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognize as food — stands in need of defense, from whom does it need defending? From the food industry on one side and nutritional science on the other. Both stand to gain much from widespread confusion about what to eat, a question that for most of human history people have been able to answer without expert help. Yet the professionalization of eating has failed to make Americans healthier. Thirty years of official nutritional advice has only made us sicker and fatter while ruining countless numbers of meals.

Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By urging us to once again eat food, he challenges the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach — what he calls nutritionism — and proposes an alternative way of eating that is informed by the traditions and ecology of real, well-grown, unprocessed food. Our personal health, he argues, cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part.

In Defense of Food shows us how, despite the daunting dietary landscape Americans confront in the modern supermarket, we can escape the Western diet and, by doing so, most of the chronic diseases that diet causes. We can relearn which foods are healthy, develop simple ways to moderate our appetites, and return eating to its proper context — out of the car and back to the table. Michael Pollan’s bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.

* * *

From the book, here are Pollan’s twelve commandments for the serious eater:

1. “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

2. “Avoid foods containing ingredients you can’t pronounce.”

3. “Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.”

4. “Avoid food products that carry health claims.”

5. “Shop the peripheries of the supermarket; stay out of the middle.”

6. “Better yet, buy food somewhere else: the farmers’ market or CSA.”

7. “Pay more, eat less.”

8. “Eat a wide variety of species.”

9. “Eat food from animals that eat grass.”

10. “Cook, and if you can, grow some of your own food.”

11. “Eat meals and eat them only at tables.”

12. “Eat deliberately, with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure.”

* * *

For related Situationist posts, go to “The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,” and “The Situation of Our Food – Part III.”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Gambling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2008

hats-eyeglasses.pngYesterday’s Here and Now (on NPR) included a fascinating (15-minute) interview of journalist Martha Frankel, who has just published her funny but disturbing autobiography “Hats and Eyeglasses.” From the NPR abstract: “Though she grew up around gambling, Martha Frankel, was largely immune from its lure, until she was in her mid-forties and discovered poker. When she found out she could play the game online, what had been fun turned into an addiction.” You can listen to the interview here.

* * *

Chris Berdik (from WBUR) has a great story “The Science of Gambling Addiction,” which you can listen to here (7.5 minutes). We’ve included a few excerpts from the story below.

* * *

[S]cientists have only recently started exploring the gambling mind, actually looking into what happens inside the brains of people like Ed when the dice roll or when the starting gates swing open at the track.

* * *

BERDIK: As far as our brains are concerned, when we walk into a casino all the action starts in our midbrain, in a bundle of neural pathways called the “natural reward circuit.” Whenever we experience something pleasurable, from a delicious meal to a slot machine jackpot, the neurotransmitter dopamine pulses through this circuit.

Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA’s gambling studies program, says that for most of us, this natural reward circuit is critical for learning and motivation.

FONG: It’s a hard wired circuit that is inside our brains, that is evolutionarily important. Because if we couldn’t experience pleasure or reward, why would we ever do anything, or seek out new experiences.

BERDIK: But for some of us, the natural reward circuit is in overdrive, pumping dopamine, pedal to the floor.

FONG: A lot of pathological gamblers will tell me when they walk into a casino they start salivating, they talk about being in the zone, they talk about having this profound euphoria.

* * *

BERDIK: The notion of a reward circuit gone haywire underlies a lot of today’s research into the biology of addiction. And the kicker is that the neurons in this circuit don’t need an actual reward to get excited. Anticipation is more than enough.

Hans Breiter, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, demonstrated this a few years ago.

He scanned the brains of normal healthy people playing games of chance where a spinning wheel either won or lost them cash. It turned out that the subjects’ reward circuits lit up even before the wheel settled on a number, reacting simply to the prospect of a jackpot.

Gamblers, especially habitual ones, have long talked about the rush. Ed felt it.

ED: The sensation then was like, you know you’re on the edge. It was like skydiving.

BERDIK: As a result, a little winning, just enough to kick start those reward anticipation neurons, can make gambling fun even if at the end of the night you’re down, by a lot.

In his lab, Breiter pulls out a paper comparing the brain scan of a healthy person playing a game of chance with that of a cocaine addict from an earlier experiment in which the subjects’ brains were scanned before during and after receiving an shot of cocaine.

BREITER: In this particular image what you see is a splotch of color on top of a part of the brain. We could not differentiate between the healthy control subject, having thebrain-039-s-039-gambling-circuitry-039-identified-2.jpg expectancy of a gain, and the cocaine subject having the expectancy of a cocaine infusion.

BERDIK: Breiter’s research shows that in addition to an overactive reward circuit, the brains of people with gambling addiction are different in another way.

When people viewed a spinning wheel with mostly negative numbers, in other words, when they faced a potential loss. The natural reward circuit was much less active, but some parts of the brain were more active, including the orbit frontal cortex, the part of our brain that helps us control our impulses, evaluate risk, and make decisions like when to fold a hand in poker. It’s why the orbit frontal cortex is sometimes called “the brakes of the brain.”

This summer, Dr. Fong of UCLA published research in which he compared the brain functions of compulsive gamblers and methamphetamine addicts. He found that both groups display similar impairments to the part of the brain where the orbit frontal cortex resides. In other words, says Fong, for both compulsive gamblers and meth addicts, the brakes are gone.

FONG: The fascinating question is how did these brain changes happen? Were people born this way, or is it possible that just by the act of gambling itself, that somehow people are able to modify their brain functioning and then all the sudden create this condition of pathological gambling.

BERDIK: So while experts say about five percent of the population is at risk for compulsive gambling, how much of that risk is influenced by factors like the proliferation of online gambling or, say, having a glitzy new casino right down the road? Again, Dr. Fong.

FONG: My personal belief is there’s probably a combination here. Where people are probably born with vulnerability, or a biological susceptibility to develop gambling addiction, but unless they are exposed to gambling at an early age, they’re probably not going to develop this problem.

BERDIK: Addiction researchers are conducting clinical trials on drugs to help treat problem gamblers, but no matter what scientists discover those who work with compulsive gamblers say that breaking the habit will always take more than a pill. It often takes major lifestyle changes.

* * *

Below we’ve the initial portions of a news article from an Atlantic City news channel, “Compulsive Gambler Files $20M Suit Against Casinos.”

* * *

lawyer-sues-casino.jpgShe was an ambitious lawyer and TV commentator who starting going to Atlantic City casinos to relax, and soon was getting high-roller treatment that included limousines whisking her to the resort.

Arelia Margarita Taveras says she was even allowed to bring her dog, Sasha, to the blackjack tables, sitting in her purse.

But her gambling spun out of control: She said she would go days at a time at the tables, not eating or sleeping, brushing her teeth with disposable wipes so she didn’t have to leave.She says her losses totaled nearly $1 million.Now she’s chasing the longest of long shots: a $20 million racketeering lawsuit in federal court against six Atlantic City casinos and one in Las Vegas, claiming they had a duty to notice her compulsive gambling problem and cut her off.”They knew I was going for days without eating or sleeping,” Taveras said. “I would pass out at the tables. They had a duty of care to me. Nobody in their right mind would gamble for four or five straight days without sleeping.”Experts say her case will be difficult to prove, but it provides an unusually detailed window into the life of a problem gambler.

* * *

To read the rest of the article, click here. To watch an ABC video about the story, click here. To read some related Situationist posts, go to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2008

There is a great video interview of Tony Greewald and Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji on Edge. We’ll post parts of the transcript in severalMahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald bite-sized installments. Part I is here.

* * *

GREENWALD: At various points in my career I have worked on some very interesting questions, such as: How is voluntary action controlled? What is the self? How does the mind function unconsciously? On that last one, I surprised myself by discovering that visual stimuli, flashed so briefly as to remain consciously unseen, can influence behavior. In starting this research I had no idea that was true. In doing the research, I found that we can learn new things by creating new methods. I had created new methods for studying subliminal perception, and shortly after than Mahzarin and I started working on developing methods to investigate things going on outside of awareness that could influence social behavior.

We were very influenced by cognitive psychologists’ work on implicit cognition—which is the label for knowledge expressed implicitly in behavior even when the person performing the behavior was unaware of having the knowledge. We were looking for ways to study the implicit aspects of social behavior. An important moment came in 1995, when we performed an experiment that we had conceived a few years earlier and written into one brief paragraph of a proposal to the National Science Foundation.

In that experiment subjects gave a response on a computer keyboard with the index finger of the right hand to words that named pleasant things and to names of flowers. With left hand they were to respond to another two categories—words that named unpleasant things and insect names. This was a very easy task. Then we made one minor change: We switched hands for the flower and insect names. Now subjects had to give the same response to pleasant words and insect names and a different response to unpleasant words and flower names. Immediately the task became hugely difficult. The slowing on a response-by-response basis was on the order of 300 milliseconds, which was a magnitude of impact nobody could have expected. We certainly did not expect it.

I was the first subject in this experiment. When I experienced this slowing I found to my surprise that I could not overcome it—repeating the task did not make me faster. If I tried to go faster, I just started making errors when I was trying to give the same response to flower names and unpleasant words. This was a mind-opener.

About a month later, I modified the task by replacing the flowers and insects with the names of famous White and Black people. My thought was, if this works for flowers and insects, maybe we could use the same task to measure something that we had not yet begun to call implicit race attitudes. To my dismay, but also with some excitement, I discovered that the names of famous Black people were functioning much like the names of insects. I had a difficult time responding rapidly when I had to give the same response to famous Black people and to pleasant words. Shortly thereafter, I persuaded Mahzarin to start using this task in her lab at Yale. One of the students whom she brought along on this work was [Situationist contributor] Brian Nosek, who ever since has been a very important collaborator in this research.

BANAJI: What is remarkable about this test, which is called the Implicit Association Test—the IAT—is that it allows you to be a subject in your own experiment. Most scientists do not have the remarkable experience of being the object of study in their own research.

If you are a physicist, you cannot be the material object that you are studying. If you are a psychologist, you cannot be the subject because you know the hypothesis. But when you study the unconscious aspects of the mind, you can! You can have the experience of having your hand NOT do what your mind is willing it to do. That may be part of the appeal of the test.

How does the test work? Well, I intend to associate white with good as quickly as I associate black with good—that is my conscious goal—but I fail to do that. [See brief video above for quick summary of how IAT works.] It has to be fascinating to anybody to discover that they cannot do something simple that they will themselves to do. When we failed our own tests, we decided that this was of course for the scientific journals, but also for wider access. When in 1998 we decided that this was probably worth sharing with a wider audience than our own students, we asked, What would Galileo do, and we put it on the web.

We were stunned that within the first month with no advertising on our part, just media coverage — we had 40,000 completed tests. We had clearly struck a chord or a nerve (depending on the participant’s response!).

The test is unusual in that it provokes a reaction of surprise, even astonishment. It is both a tool to understand what goes on invisibly in our minds but it is also a catalyst for insight. And once it has suggested to us and we may contain the views of multitudes, we can ask “Am I leading my life the way I want to?” It is a unique test in that regard.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

David Vitter (Eliot Spitzer): The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on March 13, 2008

In July, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving David Vitter. The Vitter story has much in common with the most recent scandal to titillate, enrage, and otherwise occupy the press and the public. We’ve republished the Vitter post below, and leave it to our readers to assess its relevance for the Eliot Spitzer (Client 9) scandal.

* * *

David and Wendy VitterSenator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:Deborah Palfrey

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after tJeanette Maier by Alex Brandon for APhe his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.


In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, butRudy Giuliani Judith Nathan David Vitter nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is Marital Problemsmorally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

Bill O’Reilly and Homelessness

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

Posted in Life, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: